In 1725, the first exploration was done to the presence of mineral ores on Curaçao and the `dependent islands of Bonaire and Aruba’. The Amsterdam Chamber, the Head Office of the Dutch West India Company, sent out a certain Paulus Printz to the islands, who was to perform soil research under the title of director-mountain worker. After searching in vain on Curaçao and on Bonaire, he headed to Aruba and searched on the Kristalberg, dug a subterranean passage in Seroe Colorado and sent some barrels of stone and ore as samples to Amsterdam. Only a minimal amount of gold and silver was found in those, so the decision was taken to discontinue the efforts by Printz. After three years of thrudging through the rock-hard Aruban soil, he left Aruba again.

Even if the result was practically nil, the activities of Printz nevertheless revived the stories of the presence of gold on Aruba. Rumors had it that there would be gold to be found on Aruba in the form of treasures, hidden by the Spaniards, which would come to the surface now and then after heavy downpour.

A century later, the gold fever revived: gold had been found on Aruba and Curaçao governor Cantz'laar sent his adjutant, captain Von Raders, right away from Curaçao to Aruba to start digging for gold. That was in July 1824 and in August of that same year the governor himself came to Aruba, followed by a company of high military personel. Arubans had never before witnessed anything like that! 

Gold had been found in Rooi Fluit. There, a boy, Willem Rasmijn, who crossed the empty riverbed with his sheep, had found a stone, glittering with gold. His father sold the stone and went on to look for himself and one thing led to another: a true gold fever was born in Aruba. Fishermen, farmers, even sailors from ships that called in to Aruba, everyone threw himself on the rocky soil at the North coast. To put an end to this situation, the Dutch government sent extra military to guard the gold fields.  Johan Gravenhorst was appointed director of work in the gold fields. These were declared 'unfree’, which meant off limits. Since the area was too large to fence in, there were constantly people who dared to venture in there to try their luck. Most of the times they did so under the pretext to be looking for their donkeys. The military who had to guard the area, often met resistance from the intruders who defended themselves with stones, fired by means of slings. The soldiers were sometimes forced to fire live ammunition to chase away the intruders. 

the roads that led to the gold mines, 1825 map

The most important places were gold was found were Daimari, Wacobana, Arikok, Rooi Fluit, Hadicouradi and later Westpunt, where gold ore was found.
Due to the lack of decent tools and machines, the gold digging was done in a most primitive manner: the clay from the dry riverbeds where the gold was supposed to be, was laid out in the sun to dry and subsequently crushed; mostly on a canvas to gather the gold that was left behind when the wind had blown away the dried clay. The method to wash the gold out of the clay was applied too. After a big downpour, the gold became visible on the bottom of the riverbed.

The yield of gold showed the following:

 Augustus 4, 1824 

 23 pounds and 14½ ounce

 August till December of 1824

 49.908 kg.

 January till August of 1825

 21.231 kg.

The quantities of gold, shipped to the Netherlands, are:

August 29, 1825

 71.139 kg.

June 26, 1827

   3.992 kg.

September 1, 1829

   1.180 kg.

August 11, 1830

 14.085 kg.

Against the yield of the extraction of gold there were of course expenses that were a charge to the government. Initially (1824 and 1825) a profit was made but in 1826, a state subsidy was needed. In 1827, the deficit had grown considerably: almost Fl. 16.000 of expenses against hardly more than Fl. 9000 of earnings. In July of 1828, the director of the gold mines decided to cease operations. In 1829, the digging of gold was declared free. That meant that private persons could obtain a parcel by lot against a concession of fifteen guilders per year per parcel. There was not much enthusiasm for this and the revenues were petty. In 1832, hardly any gold was found anymore and hardly any license-holders were active. So the conditions for a concession were eased in the years after.

Bushiribana ruins

In 1867, a 25 years concession was granted to the London-based Aruba Island Goldmining Company, Ltd. This company built a gold smelter at Bushiribana on the Northcoast, a pier in the Oranjstad harbor and a 6 mile long road between the harbor and the smelter. The ore came mainly from Seroe Plat and the Kristalberg. The first two years, 2938 tons of material were processed and 2075 oz. of fine gold produced. The ore was first tooled with a stamp mill.
In 1897, a new process was implemented to separate the gold from the ore, the so-called ‘cyanide process’. With the help of potassium cyanide, the gold was extracted from the crushed quartz. It turned out to be a bull’s eye and even from the remaining ore from the previous method, gold could be extracted.

Bushiribana windows

To be able to mine the primary gold that was to be found in lodes of quartz, mines had to be dug. The working conditions in the mines were extremely primitive: no mechanical tools, no escalators to get the miners in or out of the mines: humans and materials had to be hauled up by means of a bucket! Whoever went into the mine was hoisted down while standing with one leg in the bucket, while the other leg was needed to prevent collisions with the wall and to prevent the bucket from spinning around. Above, two men were hauling the bucket up or down over a pulley. Down in the mine, the heath was oppressive and just a single candle took care of the illumination. It goes without saying that it was physically hard labor.

impressive Bushiribana ruins

In 1899, the Gold Mining Company closed down and another company, London-based as well, was founded, the Aruba Gold Concessions, Ltd. Managed by Mr. Jennings and Mr. Hoskin, this company built the gold smelter at Balashi and mines were struck all over Aruba, amongst which one at Mira Lamar. That mine, Mil Speranza, was a modern mine for that time: fresh air was blown into the mine by a wind machine. The main shaft sloped down so one could go down using a ladder; small carts, called ‘skieps’, on rails, could bring the ore up, pulled by a steam winch. After sorting out the ore that held gold from the ordinary stones, the precious material was transported to Balashi by means of a so-called 'locomobiel', a big tractor that looked like a 19th century locomotive, built by English engineers and called  'traction engine', which the locals called  ' trekinchi' in Papiamento. The trekinchi made the long and difficult trip to Balashi and back and along the way it often got stuck in the mud. So workers all had to fall in to pull it out of there again. One of the spots where that happened more than once is since then known as 'Marawiel', the spot where the wheel gets stuck.

Enormous investments that were needed for the management of the company against petty yield from the gold extraction prevented the Aruba Gold Concessions from working profitably, with the exception of one year. After eight years, the activities were ceased again in 1908.

Balashi ruins

A local company, the Aruba Goud Maatschappij, took over the concession plus the machineries. Initially, the results were pretty good and the Goudmaatschappij was the principal source of income for the island. But this company too was granted only a short life since World War I prevented further continuation. By the way, it was not the Goudmaatschappij itself that extracted the ore from the mines. That was done by hundreds of individually operating miners who had the best eye for spotting ore with a high content of gold. This so-called tributer-system had one disadvantage: as soon as a vein went too low or too deep or became too hard to tool, it was left behind to start again elsewhere, where it was easier to work. This way, part of the best veins was never explored to the limit and the gold content of the extracted ore declined gradually.

Balashi ruins

During World War I, dynamite and the raw materials, needed to purify the ores, were impossible to get by and the production came to a total standstill. After the war they found out that the machineries of Balashi that had not been used or maintained for years, could not be used at all. This meant an end (for the time being?) to the gold digging on Aruba

< Prev   Next >

  • Narrow screen resolution
  • Wide screen resolution
  • Auto width resolution
  • Increase font size
  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
  • default color
  • blue color
  • green color